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Co-Counseling for Married Couples [1]

by Harvey Jackins

Re-evaluation Counseling is the regular, responsible exchange of Re-evaluation Counseling between two or more people.

Re-evaluation Counseling involves a basic relationship between humans, the use of which is necessary for optimum functioning of any human being, but the practice of which is greatly inhibited in modern society. This inhibiting is the result of a conditioning which is imposed upon all of us when we are young children. We are conditioned particularly to repress the discharge processes indicated by crying, trembling, laughing, expressing anger and yawning.

One of the most valuable and exciting aspects of the rediscovery of these processes is that two people can systematically free themselves from their limitations through the deliberate application of the counseling relationship. To do this involves distinct and separate roles for the two people involved. The first person, sometimes called the client, talks, remembers, discusses, discharges, re-evaluates. The second person, sometimes called the counselor, listens, pays attention, encourages, permits and assists discharge.

In the period of time or “session” that the two are applying the relationship, keeping these two roles distinct and persistence in fully operating within one role are important to the success of the process. However, the exchange or reversal of these roles by the two people concerned in a separate later session is perfectly workable and is the essence of Co-Counseling. This workability offers dramatic hope for the re-emergence of humankind to completely rational behavior.


Many years ago, in the first series of Co-Counseling classes, mutual restimulation often flared up between spouses in class. This “upsetness to each other” was so obvious and so troublesome that it became a careless truism in the classes to say that “married couples can’t counsel each other.” This became accepted as an unchallenged principle and was widely quoted. New students in Co-Counseling class were told by more experienced students or by instructor that Co-Counseling with one’s spouse was simply impossible.

Though there seemed reason for this attitude, in actual practice the married couples involved in Co-Counseling classes never did quit trying to counsel with each other. The need and the opportunity were both present almost every day of their lives together, and the attempt to use counseling was made intuitively and informally over and over again.

We know now that a lot of successes were achieved by husbands and wives Co-Counseling even in those days, but the successes were seldom reported and the explosive, upsetting failures always were thoroughly reported so the notion that “husbands and wives can’t Co-Counsel” was not challenged theoretically for several years.


The event that finally forced a second look at this negative stricture was that several married couples too remote from the Seattle classroom to find Co-Counselors easily, but knowledgeable on how to counsel well from individual sessions with staff counselors, simply, on their own, turned to each other and began to make Co-Counseling work. In some instances not only did they make it work but they made it work spectacularly well. Very important gains were made. Outstanding examples of successful Co-Counseling were set.

Actually, Co-Counseling will work between any two people. It is a basic human relationship that all of us are equipped to carry out well. The only factor especially inhibiting its use by married couples is exactly the mutual restimulation which inevitably arises when any two people live together and arises at a faster rate in as complicated and important a relationship as marriage.


Along with the likelihood of heavy mutual restimulation, however, marriage presents several positive and important factors toward success in Co-Counseling. The opportunities for Co-Counseling between couples exist in much greater number than for people from separate households. Every opportunity for communication presents an opportunity for effective counseling. The deepest and most inhibited distresses are likely to be contradicted to the point of discharge by a warm embrace in bed with the long night ahead to talk and discharge in.

Motivation is a touchy factor in most Co-Counseling. If equal skills are not furnished and roughly equal benefits are not received, the usual Co-Counseling relationship tends to sag and be replaced. A spouse has many good and compelling reasons to wish his or her mate to discharge and re-evaluate, besides the hope of being counseled back. The family income, the happiness of the household, the treatment of the children, the success of the marriage can all be enhanced by one’s doing a good job of counseling one’s mate.


Effective counseling between married couples does not require a whole new set of rules and techniques beyond those worked out for Co-Counselors in general.

What it does require is that these rules must be followed with great care because carelessness or sloppiness will produce deep difficulty much more rapidly between spouses than between Co-Counselors that have no other relationship.

Following a correct path in Co-Counseling and avoiding mutual restimulations is something like walking a very careful path through a bog: the person who knows the path and follows it accurately travels easily; but the careless traveler will be floundering in the mud unnecessarily.

Between two Co-Counselors who have no other relationship, the bog has fewer deep spots; one can often wander off the path and still accidentally be on safe ground. The Co-Counseling process will often work well even though the theory and techniques are applied somewhat carelessly.

Co-Counseling between two people who have other important relationships, and in particular between people married to each other, is like traveling over a very deep, sticky bog on a very narrow path. If the exact counseling rules and attitudes are followed precisely, the journey is highly profitable; but even small carelessnesses will bring intense difficulties immediately.

It is easy to see why married couples who attempted in the past to Co-Counsel even a little carelessly or who let their feelings distort theory in the slightest have concluded that Co-Counseling between spouses could not work.


The counselor of one’s spouse must remain counselor all the way.

1)  He or she listens, pays attention, permits and encourages and assists discharge.

2)   He or she does not offer an opinion either during or after a session on what the client spouse expressed.

3)   He or she, then and later, represses any impulse to explain or justify his or her own position on incidents discussed in the client’s session that may have involved him or her.

4)   He or she keeps a basic facial expression of interest and approval, watches that his or her tone of voice at all times is pleasant and uncritical.

5)   He or she makes a special point to remember to tell the client spouse how well he or she did, to congratulate him/her on being a good client.

6)  He or she writes a formal note to himself or herself to not bring up any upsets received in the client’s session in his or her own session when the roles are reversed . . . (possibly three or four sessions later if judgment is used, but not in the next session).

7)  Discussion and agreement on the broad, safe lines of counseling “against the pattern" are important to reach before the sessions start and be refreshed from time to time. But if the client spouse “forgets” and lapses into negative complaining or invalidation of his or her spouse, the counselor spouse does not reproach, threaten or otherwise try to force the client spouse back on the positive track.

The counselor spouse withholds any comment but in his or her own session sets such an example of being positive, holding to a direction and discharging successfully that the communication by example (not by reproach or lecture) takes care of the difficulty.


The client spouse, on his or her part, has much to contribute to the success of the relationship. There may be a reactive urge to dramatize at the counselor spouse, to complain, to air grievances, to “let him/her really know now that s/he’s finally listening.” This is not a good idea. The session may still work if the counselor spouse is being the perfect counselor, but it will not work nearly as well as when the client spouse, too, functions responsibly.

The client spouse should:

1) Remember to be positive.

2) If negative feelings are going to be described, reassure the counselor spouse before verbalizing them. Say, “Remember, these are just my feelings I’m trying to get rid of. Let me say them but don’t take them seriously.”

3) On heavy, chronic feelings, resort to contradicting them exactly. Say the exact opposite of the negative “thought” happily, out loud, several times. Hold this direction even during discharge.

4) Contradict all negative “thoughts” about the counselor spouse by saying the exact opposite in a happy tone. Refrain from sarcastic sounds as you say good things about him or about her.

5) Express warmth and appreciation for the session when it is over.


One’s spouse will always welcome a counselor’s attitude being taken toward him or toward her. This is what each member of a marriage has wished to have from his or her spouse as long as they have been married. Apparent objections will be echoes of past restimulations that will quickly die away or they will be warnings that one’s own attitude is not yet that of a counselor.

The deliberate use of Co-Counseling can be integrated into daily life to a profound degree.

Homecomings need to be cleared for time for both spouses to take turns listening to the events of the day. A counseling student who had been away for several years returned for a visit. She spoke of her marriage and her spouse. She said, “When he comes home from work, he insists that I drop whatever I’m doing and sit down and then he tells me every single thing that goes on in his day, every person he talked to, what he said, what they said, every telephone conversation, every thought that crossed his mind and he doesn’t want me to do anything else—get dinner, do housework, even answer phone calls until he gets done telling me every single thing that went on during the day.” Later, she mused, “You know, I have the happiest marriage that anyone ever had.”

Needless to say, this listening to the events of the day must take place both ways. The homemaker’s day needs to be heard also. Flexibility governs in who listens first.


The technique of the complete appreciation of oneself has enhanced group counseling by removing the usual source of restimulation in group counseling situations; that is, the giving of directions by one member of the group to another. Now, in line with the complete appreciation of oneself, each person knows in advance how he or she intends to spend his or her turn in front of the group. He or she relies not at all on directives from the others, which while well-meant were often restimulative.

This is dependable and probably necessary in the formal Co-Counseling sessions of a married couple. Nowhere is the “helpful” directive more likely to be restimulative than between a pair of spouses. To hold to this commitment, to self-appreciation by client spouse and no directions by counselor spouse, formally and carefully, will work as well and is probably even more necessary between husband and wife than in a Co-Counseling group.

It would be well for any couple who begins Co-Counseling to plan the first twenty or so sessions which they undertake to be based on warm, aware, approving listening on the part of the counselor spouse while the client spouse appreciates himself or herself without reservations, trying to keep posture, words, tone, facial expression in line with the appreciation.


We’ve known for some time that the expression of love is as dependable an avenue for contradicting chronic patterns as the appreciation of oneself. In many Co-Counseling or group sessions this seems difficult or “out of line,” yet whenever a group has worked well enough and long enough together to be at ease with one another, the expression of affection has become an important part of their group counseling technique. With married Co-Counselors, all formal difficulties disappear in this whole field because no one has a better reason or more opportunity or less embarrassment for expressing affection and love than a pair of spouses.

Every married person feels a lack of enough expression of love from his or her spouse. No one has really ever received all the affection one wants in a rational sense. With encouragement and purpose, the expression of love to one another becomes a safe, dependable approach for Co-Counseling as well as a great source of enrichment to all of the marriage relationship.

[1]  First published in 1965 as a pamphlet.

[2] See the Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual, Rational Island Publishers.

[3]  See “The Complete Appreciation of Oneself.”


Each to the marriage brings one’s hope of love.

Each hopes for warm awareness that will heal

One’s childhood wounds upon a tear-soaked pillow,

Embraced in understanding arms. Each seeks

And yet by now is unaware of seeking.


Each yearns, and yet compulsively refuses

What one’s beloved yearns for, cruel denial,

Recording of the times one was refused

When help was sought from others long ago.


So up the middle of love’s blissful garden

A thorn hedge grows. Old patterns strike and


And those who loved and reached are walled apart.

In every home, to some degree, a wall.


We’ve learned to let distresses peel away

And free ourselves, regain our humanness,

Resist conditioning and re-emerge.

We counsel well with new friends. Those we love

We find more difficult, their hurts confuse us.


With spouse there’s greatest chance of most


Yet chance of greatest gain and most reward.

The thorn hedge can go down, the warmth come


Each can fulfill the other’s hopes completely.

Respect and love each give and take, unwalled.

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00